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R. L Sharpe

 
 
 
 
 
Tác giả: Sidney Sheldon
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Chapter 27
iarritz, on the southwestern coast of France, has lost much of its turn-of-the-century glamour. The once-famed Casino Bellevue is closed for badly needed repairs, while the Casino Municipal on Rue Mazagran is now a run-down building housing small shops and a dancing school. The old villas on the hills have taken on a look of shabby gentility.
Still, in high season, from July to September, the wealthy and titled of Europe continue to flock to Biarritz to enjoy the gambling and the sun and their memories. Those who do not have their own châteaus stay at the luxurious Hôtel du Palais, at 1 Avenue Impératrice. The former summer residence of Napoleon III, the hotel is situated on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, in one of nature's most spectacular settings: a lighthouse on one side, flanked by huge jagged rocks looming out of the gray ocean like prehistoric monsters, and the boardwalk on the other side.
On an afternoon in late August the French Baroness Marguerite de Chantilly swept into the lobby of the Hôtel du Palais. The baroness was an elegant young woman with a sleek cap of ash-blond hair. She wore a green-and-white silk Givency dress that set off a figure that made the women turn and watch her enviously, and the men gape.
The baroness walked up to the concierge. "Ma clé, s'il vous plaît," she said. She had a charming French accent.
"Certainly, Baroness." He handed Tracy her key and several telephone messages.
As Tracy walked toward the elevator, a bespectacled, rumpled-looking man turned abruptly away from the vitrine displaying Hermes scarves and crashed into her, knocking the purse from her hand.
"Oh, dear," he said. "I'm terribly sorry." He picked up her purse and handed it to her. "Please forgive me." He spoke with a Middle European accent.
The Baroness Marguerite de Chantilly gave him an imperious nod and moved on.
An attendant ushered her into the elevator and let her off at the third floor. Tracy had chosen Suite 312, having learned that often the selection of the hotel accommodations was as important as the hotel itself. In Capri, it was Bungalow 522 in the Quisisana. In Majorca, it was the Royal Suite of Son Vida, overlooking the mountains and the distant bay. In New York, it was Tower Suite 4717 at The Helmsley Palace Hotel, and in Amsterdam, Room 325 at the Amstel, where one was lulled to sleep by the soothing lapping of the canal waters.
Suite 312 at the Hôtel du Palais had a panoramic view of both the ocean and the city. From every window Tracy could watch the waves crashing against the timeless rocks protruding from the sea like drowning figures. Directly below her window was an enormous kidney-shaped swimming pool, its bright blue water clashing with the gray of the ocean, and next to it a large terrace with umbrellas to ward off the summer sun. The walls of the suite were upholstered in blue-and-white silk damask, with marble baseboards, and the rugs and curtains were the color of faded sweetheart roses. The wood of the doors and shutters was stained with the soft patina of time.
When Tracy had locked the door behind her, she took off the tight-fitting blond wig and massaged her scalp. The baroness persona was one of her best. There were hundreds of titles to choose from in Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage and Almanach de Gotha. There were ladies and duchesses and princesses and baronesses and countesses by the score from two dozen countries, and the books were invaluable to Tracy, for they gave family histories dating back centuries, with the names of fathers and mothers and children, schools and houses, and addresses of family residences. It was a simple matter to select a prominent family and become a distant cousin--- particularly a wealthy distant cousin. People were so impressed by titles and money.
Tracy thought of the stranger who had bumped into her in the hotel lobby and smiled. It had begun.
o O o
At 8:00 that evening the Baroness Marguerite de Chantilly was seated in the hotel's bar when the man who had collided with her earlier approached her table.
"Excuse me," he said diffidently, "but I must apologize again for my inexcusable clumsiness this afternoon."
Tracy gave him a gracious smile. "That's quite all right. It was an accident."
"You are most kind." He hesitated. "I would feel much better if you would permit me to buy you a drink."
"Oui. If you wish."
He slid into a chair opposite her. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Professor Adolf Zuckerman."
"Marguerite de Chantilly."
Zuckerman signaled the captain. "What are you drinking?" Zuckerman asked Tracy.
"Champagne. But perhaps---"
He raised a reassuring hand. "I can afford it. In fact, I am on the verge of being able to afford anything in the world."
"Really?" Tracy gave him a small smile. "How nice for you."
"Yes."
Zuckerman ordered a bottle of Bollinger, then turned to Tracy. "The most extraordinary thing has happened to me. I really should not be discussing this with a stranger, but it is too exciting to keep to myself." He leaned closer and lowered 'his voice. "To tell you the truth, I am a simple school-teacher--- or I was, until recently. I teach history. It is most enjoyable, you understand, but not too exciting."
She listened, a look of polite interest on her face.
"That is to say, it was not exciting until a few months ago."
"May I ask what happened a few months ago, Professor Zuckerman?"
"I was doing research on the Spanish Armada, looking for odd bits and pieces that might make the subject more interesting for my students, and in the archives of the local museum, I came across an old document that had somehow gotten mixed in with other papers. It gave the details of a secret expedition that Prince Philip sent out in 1588. One of the ships, loaded with gold bullion, was supposed to have sunk in a storm and vanished without a trace."
Tracy looked at him thoughtfully. "Supposed to have sunk?"
"Exactly. But according to these records, the captain and crew deliberately sank the ship in a deserted cove, planning to come back later and retrieve the treasure, but they were attacked and killed by pirates before they could return. The document survived only because none of the sailors on the pirate ship could read or write. They did not know the significance of what they had." His voice was trembling with excitement. "Now"--- he lowered his voice and looked around to make sure it was safe to continue--- "I have the document, with detailed instructions on how to get to the treasure."
"What a fortunate discovery for you, Professor." There was a note of admiration in her voice.
"That gold bullion is probably worth fifty million dollars today," Zuckerman said. "All I have to do is bring it up."
"What's stopping you?"
He gave an embarrassed shrug. "Money. I must outfit a ship to bring the treasure to the surface."
"I see. How much would that cost?"
"A hundred thousand dollars. I must confess, I did something extremely foolish. I took twenty thousand dollars--- my life's savings--- and I came to Biarritz to gamble at the casino, hoping to win enough to..." His voice trailed off.
"And you lost it."
He nodded. Tracy saw the glint of tears behind his spectacles.
The champagne arrived, and the captain popped the cork and poured the golden liquid into their glasses.
"Bonne chance," Tracy toasted.
"Thank you."
They sipped their drinks in contemplative silence.
"Please forgive me for boring you with all this," Zuckerman said. "I should not be telling a beautiful lady my troubles."
"But I find your story fascinating," she assured him. "You are sure the gold is there, oui?"
"Beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have the original shipping orders and a map drawn by the captain, himself. I know the exact location of the treasure."
She was studying him with a thoughtful expression on her face. "But you need a hundred thousand dollars?"
Zuckerman chuckled ruefully. "Yes. For a treasure worth fifty million." He took another sip of his drink.
"C'est possible..." She stopped.
"What?"
"Have you considered taking in a partner?"
He looked at her in surprise. "A partner? No. I planned to do this alone. But of course now that I've lost my money..." His voice trailed off again.
"Professor Zuckerman, suppose I were to give you the hundred thousand dollars?"
He shook his head. "Absolutely not, Baroness. I could not permit that. You might lose your money."
"But if you're sure the treasure is there---?"
"Oh, of that I am positive. But a hundred things could go wrong. There are no guarantees."
"In life, there are few guarantees. Your problem is très intéressant. Perhaps if I help you solve it, it could be lucrative for both of us."
"No, I could never forgive myself if by any remote chance you should lose your money."
"I can afford it," she assured him. "And I would stand to make a great deal on my investment, n'est-ce pas?"
"Of course, there is that side of it," Zuckerman admitted. He sat there weighing the matter, obviously torn with doubts. Finally, he said, "If that is what you wish, you will be a fifty-fifty partner."
She smiled, pleased. "D'accord. I accept."
The professor added quickly, "After expenses, of course."
"Naturellement. How soon can we get started?"
"Immediately." The professor was charged with a sudden vitality. "I have already found the boat I want to use. It has modern dredging equipment and a crew of four. Of course, we will have to give them a small percentage of whatever we bring up."
"Bien sûr."
"We should get started as quickly as possible, or we might lose the boat."
"I can have the money for you in five days."
"Wonderful!" Zuckerman exclaimed. "That will give me time to make all the preparations. Ah, this was a fortuitous meeting for both of us, was it not?"
"Oui. Sans doute."
"To our adventure." The professor raised his glass.
Tracy raised hers and toasted, "May it prove to be as profitable as I feel it will be."
They clinked glasses. Tracy looked across the room and froze. At a table in the far corner was Jeff Stevens, watching her with an amused smile on his face. With him was an attractive woman ablaze with jewels.
Jeff nodded to Tracy, and she smiled, remembering how she had last seen him outside the De Matigny estate, with that silly dog beside him. That was one for me, Tracy thought happily.
"So, if you will excuse me," Zuckerman was saying, "I have much to do. I will be in touch with you." Tracy graciously extended her hand, and he kissed it and departed.
o O o
"I see your friend has deserted you, and I can't imagine why. You look absolutely terrific as a blonde."
Tracy glanced up. Jeff was standing beside her table. He sat down in the chair Adolf Zuckerman had occupied a few minutes earlier.
"Congratulations," Jeff said. "The De Matigny caper was ingenious. Very neat."
"Coming from you, that's high praise, Jeff."
"You're costing me a lot of money, Tracy."
"You'll get used to it."
He toyed with the glass in front of him. "What did Professor Zuckerman want?"
"Oh, you know him?"
"You might say that."
"He... er... just wanted to have a drink."
"And tell you all about his sunken treasure?"
Tracy was suddenly wary. "How do you know about that?"
Jeff looked at her in surprise. "Don't tell me you fell for it? It's the oldest con game in the world."
"Not this time."
"You mean you believed him?"
Tracy said stiffly, "I'm not at liberty to discuss it, but the professor happens to have some inside information."
Jeff shook his head in disbelief. "Tracy, he's trying to take you. How much did he ask you to invest in his sunken treasure?"
"Never mind," Tracy said primly. "It's my money and my business."
Jeff shrugged. "Right. Just don't say old Jeff didn't try to warn you.''
"It couldn't be that you're interested in that gold for yourself, could it?"
He threw up his hands in mock despair. "Why are you always so suspicious of me?"
"It's simple," Tracy replied. "I don't trust you. Who was the woman you were with?" She instantly wished she could have withdrawn the question.
"Suzanne? A friend."
"Rich, of course."
Jeff gave her a lazy smile. "As a matter of fact, I think she does have a bit of money. If you'd like to join us for luncheon tomorrow, the chef on her two-hundred-fifty-foot yacht in the harbor makes a---"
Thank you. I wouldn't dream of interfering with your lunch. What are you selling her?"
"That's personal."
"I'm sure it is." It came out harsher than she had intended.
Tracy studied him over the rim of her glass. He really was too damned attractive. He had clean, regular features, beautiful gray eyes with long lashes, and the heart of a snake. A very intelligent snake.
"Have you ever thought of going into a legitimate business?" Tracy asked. "You'd probably be very successful."
Jeff looked shocked. "What? And give up all this? You must be joking!"
"Have you always been a con artist?"
"Con artist? I'm an entrepreneur," he said reprovingly.
"How did you become a--- an--- entrepreneur?"
"I ran away from home when I was fourteen and joined a carnival."
"At fourteen?" It was the first glimpse Tracy had had into what lay beneath the sophisticated, charming veneer.
"It was good for ma--- I learned to cope. When that wonderful war in Vietnam came along, I joined up as a Green Beret and got an advanced education. I think the main thing I learned was that that war was the biggest con of all. Compared to that, you and I are amateurs." He changed the subject abruptly. "Do you like pelota?"
"If you're selling it, no thank you."
"It's a game, a variation of jai alai. I have two tickets for tonight, and Suzanne can't make it. Would you like to go?"
Tracy found herself saying yes.
o O o
They dined at a little restaurant in the town square, where they had a local wine and confit de canard à l' ail--- roast duck simmered in its own juices with roasted potatoes and garlic. It was delicious.
"The specialty of the house," Jeff informed Tracy.
They discussed politics and books and travel, and Tracy found Jeff surprisingly knowledgeable.
"When you're on your own at fourteen," Jeff told her, "you pick up things fast. First you learn what motivates you, then you learn what motivates other people. A con game is similar to ju jitsu. In ju jitsu you use your opponent's strength to win. In a con game, you use his greed. You make the first move, and he does the rest of your work for you."
Tracy smiled, wondering if Jeff had any idea how much alike they were. She enjoyed being with him, but she was sure that given the opportunity, he would not hesitate to double-cross her. He was a man to be careful of, and that she intended to be.
o O o
The fronton where pelota was played was a large outdoor arena the size of a football field, high in the hills of Biarritz. There were huge green concrete backboards at either end of the court, and a playing area in the center, with four tiers of stone benches on both sides of the field. At dusk, floodlights were turned on. When Tracy and Jeff arrived, the stands were almost full, crowded with fans, as the two teams went into action.
Members of each team took turns slamming the ball into the concrete wall and catching it on the rebound in their cestas, the long, narrow baskets strapped to their arms. Pelota was a fast, dangerous game.
When one of the players missed the ball, the crowd screamed,
"They really take this very seriously," Tracy commented.
"A lot of money is bet on these games. The Basques are a gambling race."
As spectators kept filing in, the benches became more crowded, and Tracy found herself being pressed against Jeff. If he was aware of her body against his, he gave no sign of it.
The pace and ferocity of the game seemed to intensify as the minutes passed, and the screams of the fans kept echoing through the night.
"Is it as dangerous as it looks?" Tracy asked.
"Baroness, that ball travels through the air at almost a hundred miles an hour. If you get hit in the head, you're dead. 'INK it's rare for a player to miss." He patted her hand absently, his eyes glued to the action.
The players were experts, moving gracefully, in perfect control. But in the middle of the game, without warning, one of the players hurled the ball at the backboard at the wrong angle, and the lethal ball came hurtling straight toward the bench where Tracy and Jeff sat. The spectators scrambled for cover. Jeff grabbed Tracy and shoved her to the ground, his body covering hers. They heard the sound of the ball sailing directly over their heads and smashing into the side wall. Tracy lay on the ground, feeling the hardness of Jeff's body. His face was very close to hers.
He held her a moment, then lifted himself up and pulled her to her feet. There was a sudden awkwardness between them.
"I--- I think I've had enough excitement for one evening," Tracy said. "I'd like to go back to the hotel, please."
They said good-night in the lobby.
"I enjoyed this evening," Tracy told Jeff. She meant it.
"Tracy, you're not really going ahead with Zuckerman's crazy sunken-treasure scheme, are you?"
"Yes, I am."
He studied her for a long moment "You still think I'm after that gold, don't you?"
She looked him in the eye. "Aren't you?"
His expression hardened. "Good luck "
"Good night, Jeff."
Tracy watched him turn and walk out of the hotel. She supposed he was on his way to see Suzanne. Poor woman.
The concierge said, "Ah, good evening, Baroness. There is a message for you."
It was from Professor Zuckerman.
o O o
Adolf Zuckerman had a problem. A very large problem. He was seated in the office of Armand Grangier, and Zuckerman was so terrified of what was happening that he discovered he had wet his pants. Grangier was the owner of an illegal private casino located in an elegant private villa at 123 Rue de Frias. It made no difference to Grangier whether the Casino Municipal was closed or not, for the club at Rue de Frias was always filled with wealthy patrons. Unlike the government-supervised casinos, bets there were unlimited, and that was where the high rollers came to play roulette, chemin de fer, and craps. Grangier's customers included Arab princes, English nobility, Oriental businessmen, African heads of state. Scantily clad young ladies circulated around the room taking orders for complimentary champagne and whiskey, for Armand Grangier had learned long before that, more than any other class of people, the rich appreciated getting something for nothing. Grangier could afford to give drinks away. His roulette wheels and his card games were rigged.
The club was usually filled with beautiful young women escorted by older gentlemen with money, and sooner or later the women were drawn to Grangier. He was a miniature of a man, with perfect features, liquid brown eyes, and a soft, sensual mouth. He stood five feet four inches, and the combination of his looks and his small stature drew women like a magnet. Grangier treated each one with feigned admiration.
"I find you irresistible, chérie, but unfortunately for both of us, I am madly in love with someone."
And it was true. Of course, that someone changed from week to week, for in Biarritz there was an endless supply of beautiful young men, and Armand Grangier gave each one his brief place in the sun.
Grangier's connections with the underworld and the police were powerful enough for him to maintain his casino. He had worked his way up from being a ticket runner for the mob to running drugs, and finally, to ruling his own little fiefdom in Biarritz; those who opposed him found out too late how deadly the little man could be.
Now Adolf Zuckerman. was being cross-examined by Armand Grangier.
"Tell me more about this baroness you talked into the sunken-treasure scheme."
From the furious tone of his voice, Zuckerman knew that something was wrong, terribly wrong.
He swallowed and said, "Well, she's a widow whose husband left her a lot of money, and she said she's going to come up with a hundred thousand dollars." The sound of his own voice gave him confidence to go on: "Once we get the money, of course, we'll tell her that the salvage ship had an accident and that we need another fifty thousand. Then it'll be another hundred thousand, and--- you know--- just like always."
He saw the look of contempt on Armand Grangier's face. "What's--- what's the problem, chief?"
"The problem," said Grangier in a steely tone, "is that I just received a call from one of my boys in Paris. He forged a passport for your baroness. Her name is Tracy Whitney, and she's an American."
Zuckerman's mouth was suddenly dry. He licked his lips. "She--- she really seemed interested, chief."
"Balle! Conneau! She's a con artist. You tried to pull a swindle on a swindler!"
"Then w-why did she say yes? Why didn't she just turn it down?"
Armand Grangier's voice was icy. "I don't know, Professor, but I intend to find out. And when I do, I'm sending the lady for a swim in the bay. Nobody can make a fool out of Armand Grangier. Now, pick up that phone. Tell her a friend of yours has offered to put up half the money, and that I'm on my way over to see her. Do you think you can handle that?"
Zuckerman said eagerly, "Sure, chief. Not to worry."
"I do worry," Armand Grangier said slowly. "I worry a lot about you, Professor."
o O o
Armand Grangier did not like mysteries. The sunken-treasure game had been worked for centuries, but the victims had to be gullible. There was simply no way a con artist would ever fall for it. That was the mystery that bothered Grangier, and he intended to solve it; and when he had the answer, the woman would be turned over to Bruno Vicente. Vicente enjoyed playing games with his victims before disposing of them.
Armand Grangier stepped out of the limousine as it stopped in front of the Hôtel du Palais, walked into the lobby, and approached Jules Bergerac, the white-haired Basque who had worked at the hotel from the age of thirteen.
"What's the number of the Baroness Marguerite de Chantilly's suite?"
There was a strict rule that desk clerks not divulge the room numbers of guests, but rules did not apply to Armand Grangier.
"Suite three-twelve, Monsieur Grangier."
"Merci."
"And Room three-eleven."
Grangier stopped. "What?"
"The countess also has a room adjoining her suite."
"Oh? Who occupies it?"
"No one."
"No one? Are you sure?"
"Oui, monsieur. She keeps it locked. The maids have been ordered to keep out."
A puzzled frown appeared on Grangier's face. "You have a passkey?"
"Of course." Without an instant's hesitation, the concierge reached under the desk for a passkey and handed it to Armand Grangier. Jules watched as Armand Grangier walked toward the elevator. One never argued with a man like Grangier.
When Armand Grangier reached the door of the baroness's suite, he found it ajar. He pushed it open and entered. The living room was deserted. "Hello. Anyone here?"
A feminine voice from another room sang out, "I'm in the bath. I'll be with you in a minute. Please help yourself to a drink."
Grangier wandered around the suite, familiar with its furnishings, tbr over the years he had arranged for many of his friends to stay in the hotel. He strolled into the bedroom. Expensive jewelry was carelessly spread out on a dressing table.
"I won't be a minute," the voice called out from the bathroom.
"No hurry, Baroness."
Baroness mon cul! he thought angrily. Whatever little game you're playing, chérie, is going to backfire. He walked over to the door that connected to the adjoining room. It was locked. Grangier took out the passkey and opened the door. The room he stepped into had a musty, unused smell. The concierge had said that no one occupied it. Then why did she need---? Grangier's eye was caught by something oddly out of place. A heavy black electrical cord attached to a wall socket snaked along the length of the floor and disappeared into a closet. The door was open just enough to allow the cord to pass through. Curious, Grangier walked over to the closet door and opened it.
A row of wet hundred-dollar bills held up by clothespins on a wire was strung across the closet, hanging out to dry. On a typewriter stand was an object covered by a drape cloth. Grangier flicked up the cloth. He uncovered a small printing press with a still-wet hundred-dollar bill in it. Next to the press were sheets of blank paper the size of American currency and a paper cutter. Several one-hundred-dollar bills that had been unevenly cut were scattered on the floor.
An angry voice behind Grangier demanded, "What are you doing in here?"
Grangier spun around. Tracy Whitney, her hair damp from the bath and wrapped in a towel, had come into the room.
Armand Grangier said softly, "Counterfeit! You were going to pay us off with counterfeit money." He watched the expressions that played across her face. Denial, outrage, and then defiance.
"All right," Tracy admitted. "But it wouldn't have mattered. No one can tell these from the real thing."
"Con!" It was going to be a pleasure to destroy this one.
"These bills are as good as gold."
"Really?" There was contempt in Grangier's voice. He pulled one of the wet bills from the wire and glanced at it. He looked at one side, then the other, and then examined them more closely. They were excellent. "Who cut these dies?"
"What's the difference? Look, I can have the hundred thousand dollars ready by Friday."
Grangier stared at her, puzzled. And when he realized what she was thinking, he laughed aloud. "Jesus," he said. "You're really stupid. There's no treasure."
Tracy was bewildered. "What do you mean, no treasure? Professor Zuckerman told me---"
"And you believed him? Shame, Baroness." He studied the bill in his hand again. "I'll take this."
Tracy shrugged. "Take as many as you like. It's only paper."
Grangier grabbed a handful of the wet hundred-dollar bills. "How do you know one of the maids won't walk in here?" he asked.
"I pay them well to keep away. And when I'm out, I lock the closet."
She's cool, Armand Grangier thought. But it's not going to keep her alive.
"Don't leave the hotel," he ordered. "I have a friend I want you to meet."
o O o
Armand Grangier had intended to turn the woman over to Bruno Vicente immediately, but some instinct held him back. He examined one of the bills again. He had handled a lot of counterfeit money, but nothing nearly as good as this. Whoever cut the dies was a genius. The paper felt authentic, and the lines were crisp and clean. The colors remained sharp and fixed, even with the bill wet, and the picture of Benjamin Franklin was perfect. The bitch was right. It was hard to tell the difference between what he held in his hand and the real thing. Grangier wondered whether it would be possible to pass it off as genuine currency. It was a tempting idea.
He decided to hold off on Bruno Vicente for a while.
Early the following morning Armand Grangier sent for Zuckerman and handed him one of the hundred-dollar bills. "Go down to the bank and exchange this for francs."
"Sure, chief."
Grangier watched him hurry out of the office. This was Zuckerrpan's punishment for his stupidity. If he was arrested, he would never tell where he got the counterfeit bill, not if he wanted to live. But if he managed to pass the bill successfully... I'll see, Grangier thought.
Fifteen minutes later Zuckerman returned to the office. He counted out a hundred dollars' worth of French francs. "Anything else, chief?"
Grangier stared at the francs. "Did you have any trouble?"
"Trouble? No. Why?"
"I want you to go back to the same bank," Grangier ordered. "This is what I want you to say...."
o O o
Adolf Zuckerman walked into the lobby of the Banque de France and approached the desk where the bank manager sat. This time Zuckerman was aware of the danger he was in, but he preferred facing that than Grangier's wrath.
"May I help you?" the manager asked.
"Yes." He tried to conceal his nervousness. "You see, I got into a poker game last night with some Americans I met at a bar." He stopped.
The bank manager nodded wisely. "And you lost your money and perhaps wish to make a loan?"
"No," Zuckerman said. "As--- as a matter of fact, I won. The only thing is, the men didn't look quite honest to me." He pulled out two $100 bills. "They paid me with these, and I'm afraid they--- they might be counterfeit."
Zuckerman held his breath as the bank manager leaned forward and took the bills in his pudgy hands. He examined them carefully, first one side and then the other, then held them up to the light.
He looked at Zuckerman and smiled. "You were lucky, monsieur. These bills are genuine."
Zuckerman allowed himself to exhale. Thank God! Everything was going to be all right.
o O o
"No problem at all, chief. He said they were genuine."
It was almost too good to be true. Armand Grangier sat there thinking, a plan already half-formed in his mind.
"Go get the baroness."
o O o
Tracy was seated in Armand Grangier's office, facing him across his Empire desk.
"You and I are going to be partners," Grangier informed her.
Tracy started to rise. "I don't need a partner and---"
"Sit down."
She looked into Grangier's eyes and sat down.
"Biarritz is my town. You try to pass a single one of those bills and you'll get arrested so fast you won't know what hit you. Comprenez-vous? Bad things happen to pretty ladies in our jails. You can't make a move here without me."
She studied him. "So what I'm buying from you is protection?"
"Wrong. What you're buying from me is your life."
Tracy believed him.
"Now, tell me where you got your printing press."
Tracy hesitated, and Grangier enjoyed her squirming. He watched her surrender.
She said reluctantly, "I bought it from an American living in Switzerland. He was an engraver with the U.S. Mint for twenty-five years, and when they retired him there was some technical problem about his pension and he never received it. He felt cheated and decided to get even, so he smuggled out some hundred-dollar plates that were supposed to have been destroyed and used his contacts to get the paper that the Treasury Department prints its money on."
That explains it, Grangier thought triumphantly. That is why the bills look so good. His excitement grew. "How much money can that press turn out in a day?"
"Only one bill an hour. Each side of the paper has to be processed and---"
He interrupted. "Isn't there a larger press?"
"Yes, he has one that will turn out fifty bills every eight hours--- five thousand dollars a day--- but he wants half a million dollars for it."
"Buy it," Grangier said.
"I don't have five hundred thousand dollars."
"I do. How soon can you get hold of the press?"
She said reluctantly, "Now, I suppose, but I don't---"
Grangier picked up the telephone and spoke into it. "Louis, I want five hundred thousand dollars' worth of French francs. Take what we have from the safe and get the rest from the banks. Bring it to my office. Vite!"
Tracy stood up nervously. "I'd better go and---"
"You're not going anywhere."
"I really should---"
"Just sit there and keep quiet. I'm thinking."
He had business associates who would expect to be cut in on this deal, but what they don't know won't hurt them, Grangier decided. He would buy the large press for himself and replace what he borrowed from the casino's bank account with money he would print. After that, he would tell Bruno Vicente to handle the woman. She did not like partners.
Well, neither did Armand Grangier.
o O o
Two hours later the money arrived in a large sack. Grangier said to Tracy, "You're checking out of the Palais. I have a house up in the hills that's very private. You will stay there until we set up the operation." He pushed the phone toward her. "Now, call your friend in Switzerland and tell him you're buying the big press."
"I have his phone number at the hotel. I'll call from there. Give me the address of your house, and I'll tell him to ship the press there and---"
"Non!" Grangier snapped. "I don't want to leave a trail. I'll have it picked up at the airport. We will talk about it at dinner tonight. I'll see you at eight o'clock."
It was a dismissal. Tracy rose to her feet.
Grangier nodded toward the sack. "Be careful with the money. I wouldn't want anything to happen to it--- or to you."
"Nothing will," Tracy assured him.
He smiled lazily. "I know. Professor Zuckerman is going to escort you to your hotel."
The two of them rode in the limousine in silence, the money bag between them, each busy with his own thoughts. Zuckerman was not exactly sure what was happening, but he sensed it was going to be very good for him. The woman was the key. Grangier had ordered him to keep an eye on her, and Zuckerman intended to do that.
o O o
Armand Grangier was in a euphoric mood that evening. By now, the large printing press would have been arranged for. The Whitney woman had said it would print $5,000 a day, but Grangier had a better plan. He intended to work the press on twenty-four hour shifts. That would bring it to $15,000 a day, more than $100,000 a week, $1 million every ten weeks. And that was just the beginning. Tonight he would learn who the engraver was and make a deal with him for more machines. There was no limit to the fortune it would make him.
At precisely 8:00, Grangier's limousine pulled into the sweeping curve of the driveway of the Hôtel du Palais, and Grangier stepped out of the car. As he walked into the lobby, he noticed with satisfaction that Zuckerman was seated near the entrance, keeping a watchful eye on the doors.
Grangier walked over to the desk. "Jules, tell the Baroness de Chantilly I am here. Have her come down to the lobby."
The concierge looked up and said, "But the baroness has checked out, Monsieur Grangier."
"You're mistaken. Call her."
Jules Bergerac was distressed. It was unhealthy to contradict Armand Grangier. "I checked her out myself."
Impossible. "When?"
"Shortly after she returned to the hotel. She asked me to bring her bill to her suite so she could settle it in cash--"
Armand Grangier's mind was racing. "In cash? French francs?"
"As a matter of fact, yes, monsieur."
Grangier asked frantically, "Did she take anything out of her suite? Any baggage or boxes?"
"No. She said she would send for her luggage later."
So she had taken his money and gone to Switzerland to make her own deal for the large printing press.
"Take me to her suite. Quickly!"
"Oui, Monsieur Grangier."
Jules Bergerac grabbed a key from a rack and raced with Armand Grangier toward the elevator.
As Grangier passed Zuckerman, he hissed, "Why are you sitting there, you idiot? She's gone."
Zuckerman looked up at him uncomprehendingly. "She can't be gone. She hasn't come down to the lobby. I've been watching for her."
"Watching for her," Grangier mimicked. "Have you been watching for a nurse--- a gray-haired old lady--- a maid going out service door?"
Zuckerman was bewildered. "Why would I do that?"
"Get back to the casino," Grangier snapped. "I'll deal with later."
The suite looked exactly the same as when Grangier had seen it last. The connecting door to the adjoining room was open. Grangier stepped in and hurried over to the closet and yanked open the door. The printing press was still there, thank God! The Whitney woman had left in too big a hurry to take it with her. That was her mistake. And it is not her only mistake, Grangier thought. She had cheated him out of $500,000, and he was going to pay her back with a vengeance. He would let the police help him find her and put her in jail, where his men could get at her. They would make her tell who the engraver was and then shut her up for good.
Armand Grangier dialed the number of police headquarters and asked to talk to Inspector Dumont. He spoke earnestly into the phone for three minutes and then said, "I'll wait here."
Fifteen minutes later his friend the inspector arrived, accompanied by a man with an epicene figure and one of the most unattractive faces Grangier had ever seen. His forehead looked ready to burst out of his face, and his brown eyes, almost hidden behind thick spectacles, had the piercing look of a fanatic.
"This is Monsieur Daniel Cooper," Inspector Dumont said. "Monsieur Grangier. Mr. Cooper is also interested in the woman you telephoned me about."
Cooper spoke up. "You mentioned to Inspector Dumont that she's involved in a counterfeiting operation."
"Vraiment. She is on her way to Switzerland at this moment. You can pick her up at the border. I have all the evidence you need right here."
He led them to the closet, and Daniel Cooper and Jnspector Dumont looked inside.
"There is the press she printed her money on."
Daniel Cooper walked over to the machine and examined it carefully. "She printed the money on this press?"
"I just told you so," Grangier snapped. He took a bill from his pocket. "Look at this. It is one of the counterfeit hundred-dollar bills she gave me."
Cooper walked over to the window and held the bill up to the light. "This is a genuine bill."
"It only looks like one. That is because she used stolen plates she bought from an engraver who once worked at the Mint in Philadelphia. She printed these bills on this press."
Cooper said rudely "You're stupid. This is an ordinary printing press. The only thing you could print on this is letterheads."
"Letterheads?" The room was beginning to spin.
"You actually believed in the fable of a machine that turns paper into genuine hundred-dollar bills?"
"I tell you I saw with my own eyes---" Grangier stopped. What had he seen? Some wet hundred-dollar bills strung up to dry, some blank paper, and a paper cutter. The enormity of the swindle began to dawn on him. There was no counterfeiting operation, no engraver waiting in Switzerland. Tracy Whitney had never fallen for the sunken-treasure story. The bitch had used his own scheme as the bait to swindle him out of half a million dollars. If the word of this got out....
The two men were watching him.
"Do you wish to press charges of some kind, Armand?" Inspector Dumont asked.
How could he? What could he say? That he had been cheated while trying to finance a counterfeiting operation? And what were his associates going to do to him when they learned he had stolen half a million dollars of their money and given it away? He was filled with sudden dread.
"No. I--- I don't wish to press charges." There was panic in his voice.
Africa, Armand Grangier thought. They'll never find me in Africa.
Daniel Cooper was thinking, Next time. I'll get her next time.
If Tomorrow Comes If Tomorrow Comes - Sidney Sheldon If Tomorrow Comes